West Ham are on the verge of winning the battle for tenancy of the £496m Olympic Stadium following a bitter and increasingly acrimonious battle with Tottenham Hotspur. The Olympic Park Legacy Company is set to recommend to its board on Friday that the East End club, whose bid is backed by Newham council and UK Athletics, become the preferred bidder for the stadium.
The decision is seen as pivotal to the chances of delivering on the legacy promises that helped win the Games for London, particularly the regeneration of the East End of the capital. It is understood that key figures within the Olympic Park Legacy Company, led by the chair Margaret Ford and chief executive Andrew Altman, have resolved that only West Ham’s bid can meet the five criteria laid down by the tender process. The five criteria being used to assess the rival bids are:
• To achieve a viable long-term solution for the Olympic Stadium that is deliverable and provides value for money.
• To secure a partner with the capability to deliver and operate a legacy solution for a venue of the stadium’s size and complexity.
• To re-open the stadium for operational use as rapidly as possible following the 2012 Games.
• To ensure that the stadium remains a distinctive physical symbol supporting the economic, physical and social regeneration of the surrounding area.
• To allow flexible usage of the stadium, accommodating a vibrant programme of events allowing year-round access for schools, the local community, the wider public and elite sport.
Tottenham’s bid is based on ripping out the track and rebuilding a football stadium from scratch on the site while refurbishing the Crystal Palace athletics stadium as an alternative legacy. The political gamble involved in tearing down the stadium weeks after the 2012 Games may have weighed against Spurs.
West Ham’s proposals for legacy use by the community, combined with the fact that their vision was perceived to offer less risk of cost overruns or delays, may also have been among the decisive factors. Potential problems with redeveloping the site at Crystal Palace, which athletics chiefs have dubbed a “poor consolation prize”, would also have been considered.
West Ham propose to spend £95m converting the 80,000-capacity stadium into a 60,000 venue that could house concerts, athletics, rugby, Twenty20 cricket, motor racing and American football. They will borrow £40m from Newham council, to be repaid by the club at commercial rates, use £35m available to both bidders from the Olympic budget and invest £20m from the sale of Upton Park.
David Gold has said the plans are sustainable and that he and his West Ham co-owner, David Sullivan, would underwrite the return to the OPLC and Newham council. “This is a very sustainable financial package. It repays the debt and makes a profit for West Ham football club. But most importantly it delivers an ongoing financial benefit to the community.”
During the tender process the OPLC is believed to have returned to West Ham and their partners to secure financial guarantees and will structure the 150-year lease in such a way that ripping up the track at a later date would prove extremely difficult. Spurs, who had partnered with the O2 operator AEG, have argued strongly that retaining the athletics track makes no economic sense and will result in a white elephant. Their chairman, Daniel Levy, has indicated he is likely to fight the decision in the courts if Spurs lose.
The OPLC board is being advised by a sub-committee which includes the former Arsenal managing director Keith Edelman, the former Oftel director David Edmonds and Philip Lewis, chief executive of the property division of Kirsh Group. It has also taken advice from independent experts. Papers went out to all 14 members of the full board on Wednesday ahead of Friday’s vote. Altman will present his analysis of the bids and is expected to recommend they endorse West Ham as the preferred bidder. The recommendation of the OPLC, which has carried out a lengthy tender process, will then have to be rubber-stamped by the government and London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, the 50% shareholders.
However, it is not expected that they would challenge the decision of the OPLC board, which has been specifically set up to manage the development of the Park’s legacy over the next 20 years.
As soon as Gold and Sullivan bought West Ham in January last year they announced that they planned to investigate the possibility of moving to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
The Guardian revealed in March that the club had teamed up with UK Athletics to deliver a bid that revolved around keeping the track and so winning the crucial support of the Olympic and athletics lobby, including Lord Coe.
Coe and others who had helped win the bid were insistent that the track must stay because it was part of the basis on which London had secured the Games. Their intervention raised the political temperature. Ford, upon her appointment as chair of the OPLC in 2009, resolved to re-open the tender process that had failed to secure an anchor tenant for the default option of a 25,000 seat athletics stadium.
Guardian .co .uk